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Iowa keeps faint NCAA tournament hopes alive with 63-55 win over Illini

Iowcenter Gabriel Olaseni (0) dunks over Illinois guard Joseph Bertr(2) during first half an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday March

Iowa center Gabriel Olaseni (0) dunks over Illinois guard Joseph Bertrand (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Cedar Rapids Gazette, Brian Ray) MAGS OUT

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Updated: March 6, 2013 9:56AM

This game was there for the taking. The problem was, the way Illinois played made it too difficult to take.

Desperately needing a win to keep its faint NCAA hopes alive, Iowa defeated the out-of-sync Illini 63-55 before a crowd of 14,566 on Tuesday night in Iowa City.

If the Hawkeyes (19-11, 8-9) can beat Nebraska in their finale and snatch a game or two in the Big Ten tournament, they’ll have an outside chance to sneak into the Big Dance, most likely as the Big Ten’s eighth entry.

Even though there’s little question that Illinois’ NCAA tournament standing already is secure, if it fumbles and bumbles like it did against the Hawkeyes, it might be on the outside looking in once the tournament begins.

‘‘Our guys fought hard, but execution is so important at this time of year,’’ coach John Groce said. ‘‘You have to have effort and execution at this time of year. Our execution wasn’t good enough.’’

The Illini (21-10, 8-9) shot just 28.6 percent (18-for-63), including 1-for-16 in the first 11-plus minutes of the game. They then shot 1-for-10 to open the second half.

Brandon Paul (18 points) and D.J. Richardson (13) led Illinois but combined to shoot 10-for-30 from the field. The rest of the Illini were 8-for-33.

‘‘Our offense was anemic. It was hard to watch,’’ Groce said. ‘‘We just didn’t make enough plays. It’s that simple. Their guys did, and they ended up winning the game.’’

For all their woes, the Illini were down only 48-46 with four minutes to play.

But 6-5 sophomore Josh Oglesby, a 26 percent three-point shooter, drained back-to-back three-pointers. Roy Devyn Marble, who led Iowa with 21 points, then added a three-point play. That put the Hawkeyes ahead 57-46 with 1:39 left, and ended the Illini’s escape hopes.

‘‘We were right there. We had our chances,’’ Groce said. ‘‘Then Oglesby makes two threes. We got screened twice and lost him. And Marble beats us off the dribble. Those three possessions were the dagger.’’

On the other hand, Iowa is 15-2 at home, with its only losses to No. 2 Indiana and No. 10 Michigan State. Those losses are among the six the Hawkeyes have endured by four or fewer points.

In other words, as messy as it looked, Illinois can turn this into another bump in the Big Ten road if it uses the loss as a wake-up call. It has shown in the second half of league play that it’s capable of doing so. But time is running short.

‘‘We were active, but when you shoot 29 percent, it’s tough to [win],’’ Groce said. ‘‘We have to play better if we want different results. We have to make more plays.’’

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